Archive for the ‘ British Muslims ’ Category

Religion Journal: For Ramadan, India Goes it Alone

By Joanna Sugden for The Wall Street Journal

Muslims start the month-long daytime fast of Ramadan Friday. But not in India.

While most of the world’s Muslims look to Saudi Arabia or follow astronomical calculations to determine when the new moon of the ninth lunar month has arrived – marking the start of Ramadan – India follows the declaration of its own Central Moon Sighting Committee.

“Geographical differences mean we are a day behind Saudi Arabia in terms of lunar months, so we are expecting to start on Saturday,” says Syed Tariq Bukhari, a member of the committee and general secretary of the advisory council at Old Delhi’s Jama Masjid, one of the country’s most important mosques.

At sunset Friday, the 29th day of the eighth lunar month, 21 senior leaders from Delhi’s mosques will meet to decide whether the new moon has been sighted. In the Muslim calendar, months are either 29 or 30 days long.

“It is very difficult to spot a new moon, particularly on the 29th day of the month because it appears for a very short time and is a very thin sliver,” Mr. Bukhari said, adding that the best time to spot a new moon is half an hour before sunset.

“If naturally we are not able to see it because it’s cloudy then we coordinate with the other committees of other cities who have similar geographic circumstances,” Mr. Bukhari said.

The committee then waits for a Shahadah or Islamic witness who has seen the new moon. “The appearance of the witness should be according to Sharia law, which means having a beard and his neighbors should know him as a dependable person as far as being a witness is concerned,” Mr. Bukhari added.

If no credible Islamic witness comes forward, the committee waits until between 80 and 90 other witness statements on sightings are collected by moon sighting committees across the country. Then it declares the start of Ramadan.

If the moon isn’t sighted at all in the last days of the lunar month, the committee waits until the first day of the ninth lunar month – which this year is on Sunday – to declare that Ramadan has begun. It announces the start of the fast via the media, to the government and over loud speakers from mosques.

Zasarul Islam Khan, president of the All India Muslim Majlis-e-Mushawarat, an umbrella body for Muslim organizations, says the timing of Ramadan should always be based on local sightings of the moon.

“Outside the Subcontinent they are following Saudi Arabia, which is technically wrong. The scholars say that you should wait to see the new moon physically before starting Ramadan,” he told India Real Time.

Mosques in the southern Indian state of Kerala go by Saudi Arabian timings because they have close links with the Middle East, according to Mr. Bukhari. Those in the northern state of Jammu and Kashmir go by Pakistan’s declaration as they are more geographically in line with the country, he adds.

The Fiqh Council of North America, which rules on matters of Islamic jurisprudence, says Muslims should follow precise astrological calculations to decide the start of the fast.

In sunlight hours during Ramadan, Muslims refrain from food, water, sex, smoking and oral medicine in order to bring desire under self-control and to focus on prayer and Allah.

This year, the fast coincides with the London Olympics, so Muslim athletes will have to decide whether to observe it and risk a dent in their performance or exempt themselves and carry out the fast once they finish the competition.

Maher Abu Rmeileh, a Palestinian Judo champion who is competing at the Games, told the BBC that he would not be observing Ramadan this year. “Scholars recommended me not to fast and said that I represented my nation not just myself, so once I return from the games I will have to make up for it,” he said.

Such a clash only happens once every 44 years and the International Olympic Committee has said it will look into the possibility of avoiding such a conflict in future, once London 2012 is over.

People exempt from fasting include pregnant women, children who haven’t reached puberty, menstruating women, breast-feeding women, the elderly, travelers and the chronically ill.

Mr. Khan said those who are sick or elderly are allowed to give to charity instead of fasting. If they are determined to observe Ramadan, they should consult their doctor, he added.

Joanna Sugden is freelance journalist living in Delhi. Before coming to India in 2011 she spent four-and-a-half years as a reporter at The Times of London, covering religion and education. You can follow her on Twitter @jhsugden.

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Amir Khan at Crossroads After Fourth-Round Loss to Danny Garcia

Kevin Mitchell for The Guardian

Amir Khan does not lack for friends. They gathered around him in impressive numbers in the small hours of Sunday morning after the second shocking stoppage loss of his career – this time at the hands of the strong young Philadelphian Danny Garcia in four rounds at the Mandalay Bay on Saturday night – and it seems not only will he fight on but he will be encouraged to do so by those who write the cheques as well as the condolence cards.

How wise this sympathy is might become clearer when they have time to reflect on the consequences of their loyalty. Khan will have to start again.

If he has the stomach for it, fine. If he finds some discipline to go with his courage and talent, fine. If he could buy a new chin, even better still.

But boxing rarely allows fighters to write all their own story. It seems unlikely that Khan will get a rematch with the unbeaten Garcia, a fine champion but the son of an intransigent father, Angel, who wants to move on, declaring Khan “an old pair of shoes”. It was a remark as cutting as were his pre-fight barbs, which had strong racial undertones and which got to Khan, according to his trainer, Freddie Roach.

This WBA/WBC light-welterweight unification bout defeat was a bad loss. It was bad for quite a few reasons. Not only did Khan, reinstalled as the WBA champion at 10st, lay down a beautiful gameplan in the first two rounds then rip it up, but the chin that Breidis Prescott famously exposed inside a minute in Manchester four years ago again looks a liability.

Khan did not lose just because he was angry. He lost because Garcia survived a ferocious battering for two rounds then got him with a peach of a counter that unravelled his senses. He lost because he boxed poorly – and he knows it.

The punches that felled him were heavy and arrived unseen – a left hook behind the ear in the third round, a glancing right that relieved his unsteady legs of their power at the start of the fourth then another arcing hook from the left that thumped the top of his head to finish it 32sec from the end of a fierce, thrilling stanza.

He was not counted out; indeed he would have fought on until dawn. But he would have been badly beaten up had Kenny Bayless, a sound referee, let it continue.

Khan went out swinging, but he should have gone out boxing – and winning. Too often, as Roach, the boxer’s father Shah, and his American promotional partner Richard Schaefer, agreed afterwards, he is unable to resist a war.

He is some entertainer. But he entertains disaster – especially when he lets the fire in his belly burn through his arms without constraint.

As Roach said while Khan was undergoing routine checks in hospital: “The plan was to counterpunch, use the jab, but Mr Garcia got under his skin, and his heart got in the way. Amir says he will be back. Hopefully Garcia will come to England and we will fight him over there.”

From what Angel Garcia said afterwards, there is no hope of that. “Why should we?” he screamed. “He is like an old pair of shoes that you throw out. Who needs him now?”

Cruel? Well, Mr Garcia is a pretty uncompromising character – and a roadblock to a rematch.

Schaefer, the CEO of Golden Boy Promotions, was still supportive, though. “I agree with Freddie. Amir will be back. He’s an exciting fighter, one of the best pound for pound. He likes to entertain and the public like to see fights like that. We will let him rest and see what opportunities are out there for him at 140lb. Sometimes his balls are too big for his own good, but that’s what makes him the fighter he is. It doesn’t mean we have to write off Amir Khan. Who wouldn’t want to see him again?”

Shah Khan added: “He’s got a big heart and wanted to get engaged. All he had to do was stay one step away, but that’s the way he is. He’s OK, no worries, just getting a check-up in hospital. The Americans love him, Mandalay Bay love him, HBO love him. He’s not one of those guys who hides away.”

Yet, for all the kind words and promises of rehabilitation, Khan is a beaten champion for the third time in his career. That’s a worrying cycle of events. And for the second time, he has been physically taken apart.

The doubly disappointing aspect to the evening for Khan was that he had it pretty much all his own way for two-and-a-half rounds. He carved bleeding bruises in Garcia’s right eyelid, cheek and nose. Victory seemed assured.

Then he was felled by a left hook behind the ear – and we were in Prescott territory again. Garcia found the sweet spot twice more, and it was done. “I’m a killer,” Garcia said later.

Before he went to hospital, Khan took a quick look at the replay. He did not like what he saw. “I was coming in with my hands down and Danny took advantage,” he said. “I respect Danny. He was countering very well against me, I got a little complacent and he caught me. I was a little surprised when the referee stopped it. My mind was clear and my legs were OK. I respect the commission and the officials. Who knows? Maybe they made the right call.”

They did. Without question.

The other loss on his record – a controversial decision to Lamont Peterson in Washington last December – was seemingly forgiven by Golden Boy Promotions, HBO and the public – especially when Peterson failed a drug test.

Khan had tremendous backing on Saturday night. But talk of a super-fight with Floyd Mayweather Jr in London next May is no longer relevant.

Whatever Schaefer says, Khan will have to reconstruct his career from the bottom up. There will be no immediate world title fight. It will be against a lesser foe, someone he might struggle to feel motivated against – and that is another danger for him. He lives on the adrenaline of the big occasion – and, on Saturday night, it flooded his brain with foolishness.

Pakistan Wedding Rush to Beat New UK Visa Laws

By Bob Crilly for The Telegraph

In the first week of July, wedding halls, English classes and immigration consultants said they had all seen a surge in people preparing for new lives in the UK.

They were trying to beat rules which came into force on July 9 setting a minimum income of £18,600 a year for anyone hoping to bring a foreign spouse into the country from outside Europe – an increase of about £5000 for most applicants.
The spike in applications has seen visa processing times double in some cases – from 12 to 24 weeks – as the UK Border Agency struggles to cope with the numbers, according to its website.
Nowhere has seen more intense activity than Mirpur, a Kashmiri town which supplied hundreds of thousands of migrants to work in the UK during the 1960s.

Zahra, who asked that her name be changed for fear it might prejudice her visa application, said her family had no choice but to bring wedding plans forward from the autumn.

“My parents wanted me to marry a good man in Manchester with a good job but even he doesn’t earn enough,” she said.
“We knew these rules were coming so we had to get organised. It meant getting married in the heat of summer but it will be worth it if it means I can move to England.”

Arshad Hussein Shah said his eight wedding halls had seen a 75 per cent increase in activity in the month leading up to July 9.
“These were mostly couples who said they wanted to get married in time to be able to go to UK,” he told The Daily Telegraph.
The Office of National Statistics says net migration to the UK is at a record high of 250,000 people each year, a figure ministers have promised to cut to below 100,00 by the next election.

From October next year, applicants from outside the European Economic Area will also have to pass a “life in the UK” test and present an English language qualification.

Prominent British Pakistanis have spoken out about the new rules, complaining they will disrupt life for families split between the two countries.
More than a million people of Pakistani origin already live in the UK.

Sohail Sajid, a lawyer and immigration consultant in Islamabad, said many Britons with roots in Pakistan were finding their intended husbands and wives would struggle with the new language and salary requirements.

“They felt it has become next to impossible,” he said. “People are very concerned about this.”
The squeeze will be felt in many towns in the region and in Kashmir, where entire generations upped and left for a better life in the UK. Many family homes in towns such as Mirpur are built with wage packets sent from the UK and shops even display prices in Sterling.
Ali Raza, managing director of the UK College of English Language, said 35 students had enrolled for courses in June – 50 per cent more than usual.
“Everybody wanted to complete a quick English course and obtain certificates to file immigration papers,” he said.

The Unsolicited Symbolism of Amir Khan

By Shahan Mufti for Grantland

British, Pakistani, Muslim — how fans from Islamabad to London to New York process the champion boxer.

Since the very beginning of his career, Amir Khan has been more than just a boxer. He has been a symbol — well, more like symbols. One fighter, whose ethnic background, birthplace, and blinding hand speed mean very different things to different groups of fans. Khan himself has little control over how the people watching him choose to interpret his success.

It started early, when Khan was 17 years old and won a silver medal in the 2004 Athens Olympics. He became not only the “pride of Bolton,” his hometown, but also “the great young hope of British Boxing.” Khan decided to turn professional soon after, but days before his debut, the mood around Khan’s celebrity changed. The coordinated bombings on London’s transport system in July 2005 were the largest terrorist attack in British history. Three of the four bombers were, like Khan, of Pakistani origin, and all of them hailed from within a hundred miles of Khan’s home in Northern England. Khan, whose Olympic run established him as the country’s most prominent homegrown Muslim athlete, had no choice but to speak up. “I hope, by stepping into a ring, I can show all young kids in Britain, whether they are white, Muslims, or whatever, that there are better things to do than sitting around on street corners getting into trouble and mixing with bad people.” Ten days after the attacks, Khan proudly held the Union Flag when he walked to the ring. It was embroidered with the word “London” in black ribbons to mourn the victims. Moments after Khan wrapped up a first-round TKO victory, the police issued a red alert for a bomb scare and evacuated the arena.

At the ripe age of 18, Khan was not only a professional fighter, but also an unofficial spokesperson for Muslims and Asians in the U.K. Like it or not, he was a role model for underprivileged children caught at the crossroads of drugs, poverty, and now international terrorism. He also became “the best thing to happen for race relations in Britain.” All this translated into tremendous box office appeal. Before his London debut, for example, Khan visited Brick Lane, a large South Asian neighborhood on London’s East End, to promote the fight. “We brought him to the heart of the Asian community and we hope they will turn out and support him,” promoter Frank Warren said. They did. His next fight, against Belarussian Vitali Martynov, sold 10,000 tickets. It was Khan’s fifth professional fight.

Seven years later, it’s more of the same. Wherever Khan goes, he seems to carry the aspirations and insecurities of fans from all over the world. At the time of his last fight, on December 10, 2011, I was in Pakistan, a few miles away from Khan’s ancestral home, near Rawalpindi. Pakistanis aren’t die-hard boxing fans, but the sport isn’t completely unknown on the national scene. Of the two Olympic medals Pakistan has won in individual events, one is in boxing. Before every Khan fight, highlights from his previous bouts and flashy promos amped with heavy metal soundtracks start running on a loop on Pakistani television. Local governments set up big screens in public markets, and dense crowds arrive to cheer for Khan. Everything from his ring entrance to his punches to his post-match interviews are parsed and analyzed for how they reflect on Pakistan and its people.

In Pakistan, the buildup to Khan’s December bout with Lamont Peterson was feverish even by the local media’s distorted standards. Exactly two Saturdays before the fight, a swarm of American jet fighters and attack helicopters swooped into Pakistani territory from bases in neighboring Afghanistan and let loose a barrage of missiles targeting two Pakistani military posts. When the smoke cleared, 24 Pakistani soldiers were dead. The reaction was something like what it might have been if a Pakistani helicopter had flown into American territory and killed two dozen American soldiers: People cried bloody murder. America refused to apologize for the attack and instead blamed Pakistan for provoking it. In response, Pakistan cut off the American military supply routes that run through its territory to deprive U.S. forces in Afghanistan of equipment and food. The resulting standoff was the closest the two countries had come to all-out war after a decade of complex military rivalry.

While the world watched the diplomatic stare-down between two nuclear states, Pakistanis looked to Khan’s fight for a taste of vengeance. Khan’s opponent wasn’t just a real-life American — he was a real-life American from Washington, D.C. And in Pakistan, Washington is not just the name of another American city (never mind that the Washington from which Peterson hails bears little resemblance to the government monoliths that most Pakistanis associate with the city). Vashing-tone is the dark lair from which Obama orders the drone strikes that hit Pakistani villages every week. Vashing-tone is the Pentagon that drops American Special Forces into Pakistan in the dark of night to take out Osama. It’s akin to what the Kremlin meant to Americans during the Cold War. Actually, it’s not unlike what the word “PACK-istan” conjures up in many Americans’ minds today.

The Peterson fight would be Khan’s fourth in the United States, and this time he would enter the ring accompanied not only by the Union Jack, but also by the green flag of Pakistan with its white crescent. Unlike the battlefield, the American was the underdog in this fight, which ended up being one of 2011’s best. At the end, two questionable point deductions by the referee cost Khan the bout, and he lost on the scorecards. Khan let the alarm bells ring before he’d even left the ring. “It was like I was against two people in there, Lamont and the ref himself,” he said. Golden Boy Promotions appealed the decision a week later and the IBF began an investigation into the scoring of the fight.

Two weeks later, Khan flew to Pakistan. He travels there every so often to visit his parents’ homeland, but this time he visited to lend some star power to a Pakistani boxing tournament. When Khan arrived in the country, this is what you might have found while flipping through the dozen-odd local news channels: a steaming-mad middle-aged man calling for war against America; a montage from the Khan-Peterson fight showing Khan’s best combinations and Peterson hitting the mat again and again and again; an elaborate computer-generated graphic re-creating the American attack on the border posts; a field of caskets draped in Pakistani flags; Khan at a press conference calling the judges’ decision “disgusting” or saying something like “let’s take the fight somewhere neutral and I’ll see if he’s the same man.” The TV channels almost didn’t need different talking heads to discuss the two conflicts. The narrative was essentially the same: Americans play dirty, and when they feel like they’re losing, they cheat.

It was in the middle of such channel flipping that I found Amir Khan on my screen, being interviewed on Khyber News, a regional outfit that telecasts in the Pashto language to the Pashtuns, most of whom live along Pakistan’s western border with Afghanistan, including in the troubled tribal areas. Khan was seated on a plush, bright orange-and-yellow sofa, watching the tournament at ringside. The interviewer threw questions at him in Urdu and Khan answered in English, but that was no problem — Khan demonstrated a solid understanding of the questions in Urdu. It was the substance of the questions, which were less interested in Khan’s boxing career than in exploring the prospects of an interviewer, a TV channel, an ethnic group, and a nation’s hopes for itself on the global stage. Here are excerpts:

[“Khyber” is what Pakistanis call the northwest Afghan border regions. Inshallah means, “If Allah wills it.”]

INTERVIEWER: Does Amir Khan like the international popularity more or the love he gets from Pakistanis?
KHAN: Ummmm … it’s the same, you know. It’s the same in England. And in Pakistan, very same. You know? I’d say it’s the same everywhere we go. The two places where we get a lot of love is in England and also in Pakistan …

INTERVIEWER: Khyber News wants to show your fights live. I just talked to your father about this as well, but in the future do you think you will have a relationship with Khyber News?
KHAN: Yeah, definitely, I think it’s a good idea. We’re happy to work with anybody. To work with Khyber News will be, maybe good, you know. Let me speak to my team and inshallah the next fight for me will be in April or May against Lamont Peterson — I want a rematch — so maybe it can be on Khyber News. Let’s see what happens. I will try and speak to my team also …
INTERVIEWER: Wouldn’t it be nice if there were a ‘Khyber’ logo next to the ‘Khan’?
KHAN: Khyber Khan? Yeah, you know, maybe … [Laughs uncomfortably.]

INTERVIEWER: One more question, we’ve heard you have found your life partner and she lives in USA, I think. Is she Pakistani or is she from there?
KHAN: No, no. She’s Pakistani.
INTERVIEWER: Where from in Pakistan?
KHAN: Her father’s from Multan and her mother’s from Lahore.
INTERVIEWER: So she’s Punjabi?
KHAN: Yeah, I think so.
INTERVIEWER: When are you going to get married?
KHAN: Oh, not for a long time. I’m getting engaged next month so inshallah I’ll let the engagement happen first. Step at a time, brother.
INTERVIEWER: Will you keep fighting after the marriage?
KHAN: Yeah, yeah, it’s my job. It’s my job. I love boxing.
Any final thoughts? “To everybody in Pakistan, I want to say I hope they watch my next fight. Inshallah I’ll win for them. I’ll do it for my people in Pakistan.”

Khan seems to have understood what’s expected of him.

Where is Amir Khan from? The question follows Khan wherever he goes. Without a doubt that same question was asked when he arrived in New York to defend his WBA light welterweight title against Paulie Malignaggi in 2010. At the weigh-in, a group of 40 or so Pakistani-British fans who call themselves “Khan’s Army” caused pandemonium. Their fervent support for Khan was reminiscent of British football supporters, but with a Muslim twist. “If anyone can, Khan can,” they bellowed. “Amir, Amir, Amir.” This was punctuated several times with the loudest call of all: “Allah-o-Akbar.” While Khan and Malignaggi engaged in a stare-down for the flashing cameras, their supporters were in the throes of a full-fledged brawl.

Khan’s Army is no jihadi outfit. This is just how they show love for their fighter. But America was understandably tone-deaf to Khan’s Army when the latter first arrived in the country. How many times in the previous decade had a large group of brown men chanted “Allah-o-Akbar” with such confrontational zeal in New York City? You could probably ask any Pakistani immigrant — a taxi driver in New York or a heart surgeon in Chicago — or even a Pakistani in Pakistan and they would all tell you with equal certainty: It is not a good idea to gather in large groups with other men who look like you and scream “Allah-o-Akbar” for any reason whatsoever, especially in New York. But then, Khan’s Army is not Pakistani; nor is it Pakistani American. They are British Pakistanis and they are part of a different culture, one in which “Allah-o-Akbar” often has more to do with ethnic pride than with Allah.

Khan was born in a town called Bolton, on the outskirts of Manchester in northern England, a fact he demonstrates by failing to pronounce the letter t when it comes in the middle of a word. Long before Manchester became famous for its football clubs, the city was an engine of the industrial revolution. The region’s textile mills attracted thousands of immigrants from the former British colonies in South Asia. Khan’s family arrived in the 1970s from the northern Punjab region of Pakistan.

Today, “Asians” — that’s what the British call South Asian immigrants from Pakistan, India, and Bangladesh — make up about 5 percent of the population of England, and together they are the country’s largest minority group. A large majority of British Asians are Muslim, and a vast majority of Muslims are Pakistani immigrants. Khan’s father did well as a scrap metal merchant, and although Khan grew up in a comfortable home, his family still lived in a depressed part of Bolton. In general, Pakistani immigrants are some of the poorest people in Britain, living in some of the more violent and drug-ridden neighborhoods in London and the big cities of the North.

Amir “King” Khan was arguably the best thing that ever happened to this community. So when Khan left his English promoter to join Oscar de la Hoya’s Golden Boy Promotions in 2010, some in Britain saw the move as more than just a desire for big money. Maybe Amir was trying to get away, to base his career in a country where every business decision he makes and every punch he throws is not fraught with ethnic, religious, and class symbolism. And how did that reflect on Britain itself? Kevin Mitchell, the Guardian’s boxing correspondent, blamed “the small crew of British bigots who have taken against Khan” and driven him out of the country. “Over there, living quietly and comfortably in the Californian sunshine,” Mitchell lamented, “he is accepted without question by the fans — black and white Americans, Filipinos, Mexicans, all of them.”

Khan’s other British fans didn’t seem to mind the move as much. They just started traveling en masse to the United States for his fights. Khan’s Army remains as die-hard as ever, but it seems that they’ve toned down the “Allah-o-Akbar” — at least in America.

Amir Khan will step into the ring Saturday night with undefeated light welterweight champion Danny Garcia. The bout has been a long time coming for Khan — the seven-month layoff since his December loss to Peterson is as long an inactive period as he has had in his career. He was scheduled to fight Peterson in a May rematch that was canceled after Peterson tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs. Peterson also admitted to having the banned substance in his system before the first Khan fight, and that led the WBA to reinstate Khan as its 140-pound champion earlier this week. The Pakistani press had a ball with the news about Peterson’s failed drug test, but it sent Khan scrambling to find a new opponent. The Islamic holy month of Ramadan was coming up in mid-July, and Khan, as always, planned to fast. After that, he probably wouldn’t be in fighting shape until winter. Khan has already fought almost every credible opponent in the 140-pound weight class and so Garcia, the current WBC champion, seemed like the best option, even if Khan would be a heavy favorite in the fight.

Ever since the match was set up, Angel Garcia, Danny’s father and trainer, has been calling Khan an “overrated” fighter. But that’s not all he’s saying. He proclaimed that he has “never, ever, ever in my lifetime, that I’ve been living 49 years, I ain’t never met a Pakistani that could fight.” Then, somewhat nonsensically, he dismissed Khan as a “European fighter from Europe.” Finally, for good measure, he went after Khan’s religion: “I know Khan’s god already. His god is a punishing god. And my god is a loving god.” At the press conference in Los Angeles to announce the fight, Garcia senior cut off everyone from team Khan and began ranting about “magic carpets” and a “genie.” Boxers and their camps always play up their mutual dislike to promote fights, but Angel Garcia seems genuinely perturbed by Khan. It was at the end of the presser, when Angel was practically spitting with rage, that the elder Garcia yelled what he was really getting at this whole time: “Where you from, man? Europe? America? Where you from?”

California has been good to Khan. Since relocating to Los Angeles to train at Freddie Roach’s Wild Card gym, he’s been spotted sitting courtside at Laker games, he’s been featured in a GQ fashion spread, and he’s been photographed on the red carpet for the L.A. Spider-Man premiere. He even got to throw the first pitch at a Dodgers game this month, and it reportedly zipped right over home plate. With the exception of Angel Garcia, America and Amir Khan seem to be getting along just fine.

Islam, Pakistani, Muslim, European — none of those are necessarily flattering descriptions in America these days, but Khan continues to hold together the various strands of his identity and carry the dreams of people halfway across the world, and perhaps that’s what’s most appealing about him. Which flag is he going to carry into the ring this weekend? Will he someday add the Stars and Stripes to his collection? At the end of the day it doesn’t really matter. What matters is that there will be people spread across a dozen time zones, all of whom will root for Khan, all for their very own personal and selfish reasons. And as long as he keeps delivering, Khan’s Army will be there, too, in ever-growing numbers. Khan said once about his fans that “they might not be boxing fans, but they might be Amir Khan fans, y’ge’ me?” It’s a figure like this who can transcend boxing’s current status as a niche sport and grow from a prizefighter to a global sports figure.

Shahan Mufti is a freelance journalist whose work has been published in Harper’s Magazine, Wired, The New York Times Magazine, Bloomberg Businessweek, and The Atlantic, among other places. He is at work on a book about Muslim identity in Pakistan that comes out next year. This is his first piece in Grantland.

Saving Pakistan’s Face?

By Huma Yusuf for The New York Times

On Monday morning, Pakistanis awoke to news that their country had just won its first Oscar. Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy and her co-director Daniel Junge received the award for best documentary in the short-subject category for “Saving Face.” The film chronicles the work of the British-Pakistani plastic surgeon Mohammad Jawad, who performs reconstructive surgery on women who were attacked with acid.

The media in Pakistan couldn’t get enough of the story. Television channels repeatedly broadcast footage of Obaid-Chinoy receiving her award. Fans posted on their Facebook pages pictures of the filmmaker on the red carpet. Her acceptance speech was tweeted and retweeted: “To all the women in Pakistan who are working for change, don’t give up on your dreams — this is for you.”

Politicians tried to share the limelight. Altaf Hussain, the head of the Karachi-based M.Q.M. party, congratulated Obaid-Chinoy publicly. Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani announced that she would be given a civilian award for making Pakistan proud and catalyzing social change.

The chain restaurant Nando’s, which specializes in grilled chicken, even designed an advertising campaign riffing on the documentary’s name: “From one hot chick to another: Thanks for Saving our Face.”

But Obaid-Chinoy’s triumph, a rare piece of good news out of Pakistan, also reveals the extent to which Pakistanis have become accustomed to feeling dejected.

For once, Pakistan is making headlines for a positive achievement, not another terrorist attack, political squabble or natural disaster. For Pakistanis who have been struggling to restore their country’s flailing image, it’s a relief to see a talented, young Pakistani woman receiving a coveted international award — and hobnobbing with George Clooney. As the cultural critic Nadeem F. Paracha put it in a tweet, “Viva la @sharmeenochiony! The pride of Pakistan is in their artistes & intellectuals. Not in bombs and bans!”

But what does it say about a country that it would rejoice at attracting global attention for rampant violations of women’s rights?

Pakistan is the world’s third-most dangerous country for women. Over 150 Pakistani women are the victims of acid attacks each year. Activists for women’s rights claim that only 30 percent of acid cases are reported and that this form of violence is extremely widespread because acid is easily available and inexpensive. Last year, the government passed the Acid Control and Acid Crime Prevention Bill, which imposes on attackers prison terms from 14 years to life and fines of up to one million rupees (about $11,000). But the new law has yet to be rigorously implemented, and attitudes toward women’s rights are far from reformed.

Obaid-Chinoy’s film highlights these problems — hardly a point of pride for Pakistanis.

Once the Oscar high subsides, Pakistanis will have to contend with the fact that their nation remains notorious for its challenges, violence against women included. Then the question will be, can the hundreds of thousands of Pakistanis who rooted for Obaid-Chinoy at the Academy Awards muster the same enthusiasm to tackle the problems that her work exposes?

Huma Yusuf is a columnist for the Pakistani newspaper Dawn and was the 2010-11 Pakistan Scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington.

“Saving Face” Pakistan’s first Academy Award Nomination

By Mudassar Ali Khan for The Washington Times

On 26th February 2012, the world will discover three different faces of Pakistan during the 84th Academy Awards, with the nomination of a Pakistani documentary ‘Saving Face’ for the best documentary (short subject).

The first face is the Pakistani filmmaker who is contending for the Oscar, the second is the internationally acclaimed British-Pakistani plastic surgeon who traveled to his motherland to heal victims of acid attacks, and last but not the least is of the heroic survivors of acid attacks who are struggling to deal with the consequences of their disfigurement.

‘Saving Face’ tells the story of a British-Pakistani plastic surgeon, Dr. Muhammad Jawad, who traveled to Pakistan to treat acid attack victims. Jawad has made several trips to Pakistan with surgical teams to work with the victims. He also organized a major medical relief effort to help earthquake survivors in Pakistan in 2005. In 2008, he received widespread public and international media attention when he performed his pioneering treatment on British model and television presenter Katie Piper, whose ex-boyfriend threw acid on her face.

Central characters of this documentary are two women, Zakia and Rukhsana, from southern Punjab who survived acid attacks and have been fighting for justice ever since. Instead of only portraying the misery of the victims, the film focuses on the vigor with which they endure the process of emotional and physical healing.

Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy is the first Pakistani filmmaker to win an Oscar nomination for co-directing this film with Daniel Junge. Obaid-Chinoy previously won an Emmy award for her film Pakistan’s Taliban Generation. This film was also the recipient of the Alfred Dupont Award and the Association for International Broadcasting Award. Obaid-Chinoy is the first non-American to receive the Livingston Award for best international reporting. In 2007, she received the broadcast journalist of the year award in the UK from One World Media for her work in a series of documentary films. For her work on other films, she also received the Overseas Press Club Award, the American Women in Radio and Television Award, the Cine Golden Eagle Award and the Banff Rockie Award.

Above all, this documentary, along with its accolades, is truly a testimony of the devotion and fervor with which Sharmeen, Dr. Jawad, Zakia and Rukhsana are pursuing their individual goals. Saving Face brings together the hard work and creativity of an ambitious documentarian, the dedication of a passionate doctor, and determination of valiant victims of acid attacks.

The film also emerges as a face-saver for Pakistan, amid growing negative perceptions about the country worldwide.

The Oscar nod for Saving Face recognizes of a Pakistani filmmaker and sends message to all the ambitious Pakistanis and the world that hard work pays off, no matter where you live and your passion to prevail over the crisis can take you places whether you are a filmmaker, a doctor or a survivor.

Welcome To The First Annual Celebrity Religion Swap

By Wajahat Ali for Salon.com

Muslims worldwide groaned upon hearing the news that Oliver Stone’s son, Sean, converted to Islam while filming a documentary in Iran.

Although we — the collective 1.5 billion Muslims worldwide — assume Sean Stone is a fine, upstanding man and sincerely wish him spiritual contentment, we earnestly ask Allah why Islam only attracts controversial celebs (in this case, the son of a controversial celeb) who further tarnish our already toxic brand name?

We plead to the heavens for an answer as to why he converted in Iran, of all places, which is currently the most feared and loathed country in America and about as popular as herpes.

We have patiently endured, oh, Allah.

We miraculously survived Mike Tyson, who converted to Islam while incarcerated, and then angrily threatened Lennox Lewis in an infamous interview: “I want your heart. I will eat his children. Praise be to Allah.”

Awesome.

Islam has the lowest favorability rating of any religion in America. If Islam were a world economy, it would be Greece. If it were a professional athlete, it would be San Francisco 49ers punt returner Kyle Williams, who muffed two critical punts, which helped the New York Giants reach the Super Bowl. If Islam went to the prom, it would be the ugly girl with freckles and an overbite standing in the corner with a bucket of pig’s blood teetering precariously over its head. If Islam were a Republican presidential candidate, it would be Newt Gingrich.

A diverse jirga of American Muslim leaders decided “enough was enough” and held an emergency meeting at Lowes’ Home Improvement store in Dearborn, Mich., to strategize how to bolster Islam’s faltering image.

A consensus emerged that we needed to draft popular, mainstream celebrities whose successful addition to our starting lineup would boost our international brand name. After all, 1,400 years of civilization and the religious practices of 1.5 billion solely rest on the tanned shoulders of the rich, famous and beautiful.

Inspired by comedian Dave Chappelle, one of the few Muslim converts who could be considered a net gain, the Muslims held a “Religious Draft” this week, inviting major religions to participate on hallowed ground: McDonald’s.

The following is a summary of the proceedings.

THE FIRST ROUND PICK

Since it was universally accepted Islam was the 2011 Indianapolis Colts of world religions, they had first pick.

Predictably, the Muslims drafted free agent Liam Neeson, who recently said, “There are 4,000 mosques in [Istanbul]. Some are just stunning and it really makes me think about becoming a Muslim.” The Irish actor is experiencing a pop cultural rebirth as the 21st century embodiment of uncompromising, kick-ass masculinity and sage paternalism. On behalf of Muslims, he took revenge against France, which recently caved into hysteria and banned the burqa. Neeson single-handedly destroyed the entire country with his bare fists in the blockbuster action film “Taken.” Muslims believe Neeson will help rebrand them as Jedi Knights, due to his portrayal of Jedi Qui-Gon in “Star Wars: The Phantom Menace,” and replace their current image as Dark Lords of the Sith.

Rumors circulated that many Evangelical Christians felt slighted by this pick since Muslims stole their digital Avatar of Jesus: Neeson voices “Aslan the Lion” from the “Narnia” movies.

The rest of the day’s picks were organized according to different types of celebrity.

ATHLETES

In a surprise move, the Buddhists requested Mike Tyson from the Muslims. Exhausted from voluntarily suffering for the past 2,500 years, the Buddhists decided Tyson’s crushing right uppercut could “really eff up China.”

In turn, the Buddhists decided to offer the Beastie Boys — the aging, versatile, hip-hop trio from Brooklyn – sensing they peaked with their 1998 “Hello Nasty” album. The Muslims accepted, acknowledging the songs “Sabotage” and “Shake Your Rump” as perennial favorites in Egypt and Lebanon.

The Buddhists selflessly threw in Richard Gere and DVD copies of “American Gigolo” to sweeten the deal.

The Jews intervened and said they wanted the Beastie Boys back on their team. They offered the Muslims Ben Roethlisberger, two-time Super Bowl champion quarterback of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Having read about Big Ben’s dubious history of sexual impropriety, the Muslims passed, but decided to donate Mike D of the Beastie Boys to the Jews as a truce offering. Allegedly, the Muslims could never forgive Mike D for the horribly weak rhyme “Everybody rappin’ like it’s a commercial, acting like life is a big commercial” on the song “Pass the Mic.”

The Jews accepted the offer.

The Muslims, feeling emboldened, made an ambitious pitch to the Christians for Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow, who “just wins.”

Muslims offered former NBA all-star Shaquille O’Neal, who fell from their graces after he acted as a giant genie in the box-office bomb “Kazaam.” They also threw in Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, the controversial Denver Nuggets star who converted to Islam and refused to stand for “The Star-Spangled Banner” before games. The Christians were initially enticed, seeing this as a perfect “born-again” moment, but they passed.

The Muslims went aggressive and promised they wouldn’t supplant the Constitution with Shariah and replace the White House with minarets unless Tebow and Mel Gibson crossed over.

The Christians, anxious to excommunicate Gibson, agreed. For the 2012 NFL season, Tebowing will now consist of prostrating and praising Allah after every touchdown. The Christians asked the Muslims to preserve Tebow’s chastity and not introduce him to Miss USA Rima Fakih or hot Arab women from the reality TV show “All-American Muslim”; the Muslims said they’d try, but they promised nothing.

COMEDIANS

The Jews made a play for comedian Dave Chappelle, a Muslim, citing his hit series on Comedy Central “Chappelle’s Show” as a creative juggernaut that still influences the masses — especially several rabbis, who apparently love saying, “I’m Rick James, bitch!” after performing circumcisions.

The Muslims immediately rejected the offer, saying Chappelle is perhaps the only living proof that Muslims can be intentionally funny.

Instead, they offered Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as an example of an unintentional comedian and provocateur in exchange for Israel cooling down its dangerous rhetoric of a preemptive strike on Iran.

Furthermore, the Muslims offered the newly acquired Mel Gibson straight up for Jerry Seinfeld.

The Mormons tried to intercept Seinfeld by playing one of their highest cards: “Napoleon Dynamite” actor Jon Heder. The Jews pretended not to hear this mockery and allowed the Mormons to slink away with some shred of remaining dignity.

The Jews finalized a deal with the Muslims and rumors have circulated since that Mel and Ahmadinejad are under house arrest in Tel Aviv, forced to watch “The Chosen” and “Fiddler on the Roof” on repeat while listening to Jerry Lewis perform comedy.

MUSICIANS

Sensing friendly relations, the Jews humbly approached the Muslims for rapper Ice Cube, citing his immense street cred and respect from the hip-hop and African-American communities. The Jews conceded the Matisyahu experiment, although initially promising, had failed, as the Hasidic reggae rapper never lived up to his “King Without a Crown” potential.

The Muslims mulled it over for a considerable time. The jirga decided they would retain eternal rights to Cube’s 1993 hit single “It Was a Good Day” from his multi-platinum album “Predator,” but ultimately release him because he inexplicably starred in the awful family comedy “Are We There Yet?”

Muslims in return asked the Jews for Kabbalah-worshipping Madonna, sensing serious comeback potential after her excellent Super Bowl halftime show.

Catholics made a request for multi-talented actor and hip-hop artist Mos Def from the Muslims, who soundly rejected any and all future offers, stating the entirety of the Middle East and North Africa could never bear to part with Def’s song “Ms. Fat Booty.”

Instead, Muslims counter-offered with alternative rock artist Everlast, whose 1998 single “What It’s Like” has made a surprising comeback on radio stations due to the economic recession. The Catholics still remember Everlast as the lead singer of the hip-hop band House of Pain, who produced the classic party anthem “Jump Around,” before his conversion to Islam. The Catholics accepted; South Asian Muslims danced to “Jump Around” one last time; and the Muslims in return received Taylor Swift and her legions of pubescent female fans, along with her former boyfriend Taylor Lautner, who played the ethnic werewolf in the “Twilight” movies.

The Muslims had finally secured their most promising young-adult celebrity.

POLITICIANS

The Mormons halfheartedly offered Mitt Romney. The Evangelicals promised Michele Bachmann and her lifetime supply of blinks. The Catholics, out of sheer desperation and embarrassment, bartered Newt Gingrich and his third wife, Callista.

The Muslims decided to stick with their boy, Barack Hussein Obama, in hopes of retaining the White House in 2012.

MISCELLANEOUS

Muslims threw a Hail Mary and asked fundamentalist Christians for Chuck Norris, who so thoroughly kicked the Middle East’s entire ass during the ’80s. The Muslims respected Norris for his ability to fire an Uzi, perform a roundhouse kick and wave an American flag at the same time. In return, Muslims offered the infamous WWF wrestler the Iron Sheikh and even agreed to teach the Christians the impregnable camel clutch. Norris, humbled by the offer, respectfully declined, and admitted that although he enjoyed killing hordes of fictional Arabs in jingoistic action movies like “Delta Force,” he currently fancied himself an intellectual and activist committed to exposing the nonexistent threat of Shariah infiltrating America. The Muslims were saddened, but collectively agreed to watch Norris in the summer action film “Expendables 2.”

The Hindus decided to play their strongest card, actress Julia Roberts, and made a request for journalist Lauren Booth, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s sister in law, who converted to Islam in 2010. The Hindus saw her as the perfect revenge and giant, henna-painted middle finger to England for the British Empire’s previous colonization and exploitation of India’s resources. The Muslims thought this was reasonable and now the “Pretty Woman” flashes her million-dollar smile behind a burqa.

THE CHOSEN ONE

Finally, the draft ended with all the religions coveting “the chosen one,” who would single-handedly redeem their public image both at home and abroad.

The Mormons offered former Republican presidential candidate Jon Huntsman, highlighting his excellent Chinese and fine hair. The Muslims initially offered NBA Hall of Famer and current cultural ambassador Kareem Abdul Jabbar. They sweetened the deal and threw in President Obama. The Jews presented Steven Spielberg and his entire film library. The Hindus humbly offered Bollywood actors Amitabh Bachan, Aishwarya Rai and a picture of Gandhi signed by Ben Kingsley. The Buddhists presented Tina Turner, Herbie Hancock and Tiger Woods.

But, it was sadly to no avail.

The Christians and Church of New York decided to keep NBA superstar and New York Knicks point guard Jeremy Lin. Rumors circulated that they were talking to China about a potential trade to ensure the ambitious superpower does not ask the United States to repay its debt, thus financially crippling and utterly destroying our great nation.

All in all, “it was a good day” for the Muslims in the first Religious Draft.

Wajahat Ali is a playwright, attorney, journalist and essayist. His award winning play”The Domestic Crusaders,” was published by McSweeney’s in 2011. He is the lead author of “Fear Inc., Roots of the Islamophobia Network in America.” He is currently writing a pilot for HBO. He is co-editing the anthology “All American: 45 American Men on Being Muslim” published in June 2012. More Wajahat Ali